Some of us have been lamenting the several deaths of children that occur daily in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, especially in north-eastern Nigeria. Unknown to many, however, the entire country is one huge IDP camp! I reached that conclusion after listening to an NGO, Partnership for Advocacy in Child and Family Health (PACFaH), at a media forum on Friday night.

Here is a country where, according to statistics made available by WHO and UNICEF, over 2million babies under age 5 die annually, mainly on account of malnutrition and curable diseases like malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea; where many women die during or after childbirth; and where four out of every 10 children are stunted.

In Nigeria, international donor agencies fund most family planning and immunisation projects. So even the 3% to 5% the federal government allocates to health in its annual budgets, I believe, is consumed by recurrent expenses – or stolen outright. Yet, Nigeria is a signatory to the 2001 Abuja Plan (of African heads of states and governments) for each nation to allocate 15% of its budget to health. While smaller nations like Ghana, Botswana, Rwanda and Kenya have since exceeded the mark, the “giant of Africa” is yet to take a positive step.

Government at all levels should, as a matter of urgency, begin to pay unusual attention to the health of Nigerians, particularly children and women of reproductive age. Security is not just about fighting terrorists, armed robbers and kidnappers with weapons; malnourished kids who survive but get stunted today will be tomorrow’s terrorists, robbers and kidnappers.

Shall we hear the good news in the 2017 budget address? Rather than allocate N28bn to health as they did in 2016, the federal authorities should allocate – and spend – at least N280billion in 2017. It won’t be sufficient still, but let’s see a new beginning. When health is lost, everything else is lost.

–By ANIEBO NWAMU  [+234-08054100220 (SMS only)]

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